Saturday, 12 May 2018

A national treasure

If we set aside Guinness as Irish, Bass must be the most famous British beer brand in the world. However, in recent years, especially in its home country, it has received scant support from brand owners AB InBev, and its distribution has drastically reduced.

However, it retains a strong base of support, and Ian Thurman, who blogs as thewickingman, has taken on the task of producing a database of all known Draught Bass outlets, to which a number of others including myself, retiredmartin and britainbeermat have contributed. The results of his endeavours can be found here, together with an excellent summary of the recent history of the brand and where it stands today. Its heartland remains the Midlands counties of Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Staffordshire, which together account for well over half the total. There’s a particular concentration in the Potteries, but only a solitary outlet in Greater Manchester. If you know of anywhere else that stocks Bass, Ian will be very happy to hear from you.

I blogged about Bass a couple of years ago, when I wrote:

I wouldn’t claim that the Marston’s-brewed Draught Bass is a patch on the 1970s original, but it is hard to compare things over a forty-year gap. But it does carry an echo of its essential character – complex, subtle, bitter-sweet, slightly sour and lactic, and not really drinking its strength. Its understatement makes it a classic English beer. Unlike many other 4.4% beers, you could happily sink several pints in a session. It’s one of my favourite real ales, and one I always like to see on the bar, and will go for in preference to other widely-distributed premium beers.
While it may not be what it was forty years ago, what else is, and it’s still a well-made, distinctive, high-quality beer that stands up very well against the other beers in the premium sector with which it competes such as Doom Bar, Wainwright and Bombardier. It’s also, more than any other beer, a unique icon of British brewing. In many pubs, from the Tynemouth Lodge in the North-East to the Dolphin in Plymouth, stocking Bass is a symbol of their commitment to quality beer and respect for their heritage.

It’s just a pity that it has been so neglected by its owners that it needs the efforts of enthusiastic amateurs to promote it. Hopefully someone from the corporate world will read what Ian has written and give it a much-needed shot in the arm.

35 comments:

  1. From a comment on my post it would seem that it's even worse in the USA. Nil promotion, limited distribution and the US keg Bass is awful. So sad.

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  2. I had been under the impression that it was still a big brand in export markets, but apparently they're letting that go to waste as well.

    It's also worth reiterating that the bottled and canned Bass we get in this country aren't brewed in Burton and are a much inferior product to the draught - to a far greater degree than most other premium bottled ales.

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    1. Bottled Bass in the US is absolute swill. Not even similar to what you see over there.

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    2. "It's also worth reiterating that the bottled and canned Bass we get in this country aren't brewed in Burton and are a much inferior product to the draught - to a far greater degree than most other premium bottled ales."

      Slightly off topic but, in my mind at least, the same is true of Guinness. I was a big fan of the black stuff until about six years ago. Whether it's due to 'tweaking' by Diageo I don't know, but the canned (and bottled) Guinness hasn't done anything for me since then. I still pick up a few cans a few times a year but it's still 'meh' to me. It might be partly due to changing tastes as I get older, not sure, but you definitely won't find it in my fridge these days.

      Cheers

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  3. My dad had a Bass house when it came in wood. I never drank it 'cos he weaned me on Guinness but I still remember the smell in the cellar was like no other i've been in since. When he helped me fit out the Boar he seemed surprised that all the cask beers would be coming in metal and plastic (he wasn't in the trade all that long).

    If I could somehow get Marston's to fill wooden casks it would be a really good seller i'm sure, but that would never happen.

    There's got to be enough love/demand for a brewer to be able to crowd source a buy out of the brand and set up in Burton to brew it properly again?

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    1. When I was working the rumour was that InBev would let the brand go for £15m.

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    2. Cooking Lager is always (wrongly) claiming that I'm loaded, but I don't think I could quite stretch to that much!

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    3. Not unless you cashed in all the Nazi gold in them safe deposit boxes in Zurich, I guess.

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  4. The other Mudgie !12 May 2018 at 18:45

    That "the Marston’s-brewed Draught Bass is a patch on the 1970s original" is simply because Bass Charrington as a cost cutting measure got rid of their Burton Unions.

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    1. Memory of past tastes is notoriously unreliable, but thinking about it I'm not sure the current incarnation is *that* much inferior to how it once was. My recollection is that the Union version was a bit heavier and fuller-flavoured.

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    2. I recall an interesting debate with a guide at the Bass Museum at the time when the Burton Unions had just been decommissioned. Eventually, and reluctantly, the guide agreed that the Draught Bass wasn't quite the same despite many months of trial brews and, yes, the Union beer was a little fuller flavoured but not by much.
      Whatever, the current version is a fine example of the beer style which I like and my beer of choice where available.

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  5. A great piece as usual Mudgie...No one needs to rescue Bass...the current owners of the iconic brand need to recognise this and market it better...

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    1. I agree with Ian. The beer Marstons brew (in Burton !) is superb.All it needs is a caring Landlord and willing customers. Drink it in Leighton Buzzard or Holbrook or Falmouth to see the proof.

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  6. The White Star in Rainford Gardens in the Cavern Quarter of Liverpool was a legendary Bass house that I first went to in the late 1970s. I still drink the Bass when I go there and find it quite drinkable. There was a huge old Bass mirror, at least 6 foot across, in the rear room until some drunken idiot smashed it in recent years.

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  7. I wrote about Bass and Boddingtons eight years ago here after the Times had announced that AB InBev wanted to sell Bass for - £15 million. Looking at the post again, I see that the mirror-smashing incident was longer ago than I thought.

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  8. Bass beer is OK but nothing special. In the past, when beers in pubs were generally better Bass was always a last choice. Today the canned Bass is not too bad.
    I can't believe there's only one Bass outlet in Greater Manchester; I've seen it in lots of places quite recently...although I can't remember exactly where as I don't drink it.
    Also, I have a vague memory of either Princess Anne or Angela Ripon being shown around the Bass brewery in the 1970s or 80s, and when she tried a sample she didn't like it, saying "Do people really drink this" !!

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    1. A heretical comment around these parts, Andy.

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  9. I said this to you on twitter. You have a point. As the first global beer brand what have it's various owners done with it? Ruined it. It's just one of the premium bitters in cans in Tesco. No better or worse than any of them. With decent management it could have been as global as Heineken, Budweiser or Guinness. Though you all might not be liking the beer as much if someone had done that, seeing as what you all think of those global consistent brands. Still, it would make quid for the country. I think most beer geekery like there enthusiasm to be niche.

    A lot of British brands have been trashed. Look at cars. All of them except perhaps Land Rover, which maintained it's status through it's owners. Maybe Mini but that died and was revived by BMW.

    Sad really. In part I think it's piss poor management but also a lot of tall poppy syndrome. Look at current British beer brands. There's no way beer geeks want any of them to be world beaters. We should cheer Brewdog for creating a brand than is becoming global. Instead they are derided.

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    1. InBev is doing the same to Budweiser, One of the Busch family has started his own brewery in St. Louis. Budweiser is losing market share in the US;

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  10. CL: BrewDog are not derided for creating a large brand. They are derided for their silly gimmicks.

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    1. you keep telling yourself that, fella.

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  11. Re the inventory of Bass outlets, the Chequers at Stanton-by-Dale in Derbyshire had it in 1972, and still did a couple of months back when I looked again.

    Whether that was as a guest I couldn't say, but I doubt it.

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    1. Not shown as a permanent beer on WhatPub.

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    2. Ah, thanks. Well, there's the Butchers Arms, Llandaff then. WhatPub says that the Bass is a regular there. It's a pleasant find too, what with the dominance of Brains thereabouts.

      I didn't spot that under Glamorgan in the inventory at any rate.

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    3. The Chequers at Stanton by Dale was our Sunday dinner drinking pub for about 6 years 2000-2006 it was originally a Bass tied house and always had it on the bar when we went in every Sunday,if a barrel ran out another one would be put on, the other regular was Castle Rock Harvest Pale.
      Do what pub bods visit a pub every week like we did to say what is a permanent beer, i think they are wrong yet again.

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    4. The Chequers remains a fine pub Alan. I was a fairly regular between 1972 and 1988, but I still look in whenever I get the chance. I seem to remember the Bass being dispensed from the wood on stillage, and if you were lucky, then you'd get a pint before the tall, ruddy, silver-haired landlord drank it all himself, from his trusty half-pint dimpled pot.

      There are some touching points, such as the souvenir hats of erstwhile regulars, but I didn't see the painting of the local cricket match last time.

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  12. No complaints about BrewDog beers from me! Apart from the price of them maybe. Their Jet Black Heart stout and Punk IPA are great new beers.

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    1. Agree with you there.

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  13. Just to show how much we've lost, here's a comment from from a book published in 1884 called Fortunes Made In Business:

    It is no extravagant assertion to say that throughout the world there is no name more familiar than that of Bass. A household word amongst Englishmen, it is one of the first words in the vocabulary of foreigners whose knowledge of the English language is of the most rudimentary description. And while the cognomen of the great Burton brewer is of cosmopolitan celebrity, there is no geometrical figure so well known as the vermilion triangle which is the trademark on his bottles. It is as familiar to the eye as Her Majesty’s visage on the postage stamps. It would, indeed, be a difficult task to say in what part of the earth that vivid triangle does not gladden the heart of man. Thackeray contended with great humour that far as the meteor flag of England may have carried the glory of this country, the fame of her bitter beer has gone farther still. The word “Bass” is known in places where such names to conjure with as Beaconsfield, Gladstone, Bright, Tennyson and Dickens would be unintelligible sounds. To what corner of the habitable world has not Bass penetrated? He has circumnavigated the world more completely than Captain Cook. The sign of the vermilion triangle is sure evidence of civilisation. That trade mark has travelled from “China to Peru”, from “Greenland’s icy mountains to India’s coral strand”. There it is in Paris or St Petersburg, Madrid or Moscow, Berlin or Bombay, Brussels or Baalbec, New York or Yokohama, San Francisco or San Stefano, Teheran or Trichinopoly. You meet the refreshing label up among Alpine glaciers. and down in the cafes of the Bosphorus; among the gondolas of the Grand Canal at Venice, the dahabeahs at the first cataract on the Nile, and the junks of China. It has reached the “Great Lone Land”. It has refreshed the mighty hunter camping out in Wyoming, Montana or Dakotah. It sparkles before the camp fire of the Anglo-Saxon adventurer out in the wilds of the Far West, and its happy aroma is grateful to the settler in the Australian bush. When the North Pole is discovered, Bass will be found there, cool and delicious.

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    1. Brilliant - thanks for that, Martyn :-)

      "The sign of the vermilion triangle is sure evidence of civilisation."

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    2. Reads like Leonard Sachs in The Good Old Days.

      "Cognomen"?

      "OoooOOOOOoooh"

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  14. The other Mudgie !14 May 2018 at 12:43

    "It sparkles before the camp fire of the Anglo-Saxon adventurer out in the wilds of the Far West"
    Ah, yes, I recognise the Seven Stars in Falmouth on a winter's day.

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    1. I found the open fire at the Seven Stars to be a rugged, no-nonsense, unaffected affair, personally.

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  15. My wife refused to sit inside the Seven Stars in Falmouth as it was so scruffy, the toilets were disgusting.
    It could do with a good clean and being done up.

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    1. The other Mudgie !15 May 2018 at 20:21

      My wife and daughter chose to go shopping while I was sat inside the Seven Stars a few years ago.
      I didn't find anything wrong with the timeless and unspoilt toilets.

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